Defendant Unsuccessfully Contests Jury Instructions on Intent, But Succeeds With Double Jeopardy Claim

Appellate Court of Connecticut: Multi-Count Conviction

In a criminal law matter involving a double jeopardy claim, the Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed in part and affirmed in part a defendant’s multi-count conviction following a coordinated ambush that left numerous victims with serious injuries.

This case arose from an incident that occurred on August 2, 2004. An individual “orchestrated a plan” to exact retribution against a group who attacked him a week earlier, recruiting approximately twenty relatives and friends, including the defendant, for an ambush at an enclosed basketball court. The plan was successful, and the defendant shot one victim twice and stabbed another multiple times in the back.

Charged with Ten Counts

The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with ten counts: two for conspiracy to commit assault in the first degree, six for assault in the first degree as an accessory, and two for assault in the first degree. Before specifically instructing the jury as to the elements of each offense, the court first gave an instruction “as to the concept of intent generally.” The defendant stated he had no objections to the instructions as given. The defendant was convicted on nine of ten counts (including both conspiracy charges) and sentenced to twenty-nine years’ incarceration.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the general intent instruction misled the jury because it allowed them to convict based on “intent to engage in the prohibited conduct without determining that he specifically intended to cause serious physical injury.” He further contended that his convictions for two counts of conspiracy, for which he received two sentences, violated double jeopardy protections because they were one crime arising from a single incident.

When a court reviews the appropriateness of a jury instruction, it must decide whether the charge in its entirety, rather than a section in isolation, properly presents the case to the jury. The Supreme Court of Connecticut has consistently held that “[a] trial court’s repeated instruction that specific intent was an element of the crime charged eliminated any possibility that the jurors reasonably could have mistakenly believed that the defendant could properly have been found guilty based on a finding of only general intent.”

Court’s Findings

In this case, the Appellate Court reviewed the trial transcripts and counted the phrase “intended to cause serious physical injury to another person” twenty times, while “specific intent” was used seven times. In stark contrast, the general intent instruction was only referred to three times, and its inclusion may have actually assisted the jury in understanding the meaning of specific intent. The Court determined that the trial court “unmistakably conveyed to the jury that specific intent was an element of the assault charges against the defendant.” Thus, this aspect of the defendant’s appeal failed.

The defendant, however, succeeded on his second claim regarding double jeopardy, with which the State agreed. An individual cannot receive cumulative punishments for two or more crimes, which he asserts instead comprise of a single crime, arising out of the same transaction or occurrence. Typically, a court will look at the statutes to determine if one requires proof of an element the other does not possess. In this case, however, it was quite clear that there were two conspiracy convictions stemming from a single agreement – the ambush. Therefore, the Court reversed the convictions and ordered the trial court to merge the conviction on these two counts while vacating the sentence for one of them.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

When faced with a charge of assault, conspiracy, or accessory, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.